Small Wars Journal

Mr. Bigmouth

Tue, 03/04/2008 - 8:28am
For years I struggled with many of my peers, trying to convince them that journalists are not the enemy. It was an uphill row to hoe, but a worthy one. Over time most seem to have accepted the proposition that journalists and their editors really do take a lot of time and effort to determine if they should run with a story, particularly one which might damage us, so the terrain shifted. More and more I came to find myself engaging with either veterans or "pro military" civilian bloggers. Their positions are more hardened than those of us serving today. Often this appears to be a byproduct of their politics. (One of the political parties has it as a basic contention that "the mainstream media" is fundamentally anti-military.) Over and over again I've heard the refrain by people of this inclination, that journalists don't give a damn about those of us in uniform and would sell us out for a second if it meant a good story.

Most of these people seem to watch Fox News as well. This is a tad ironic, since Fox News carries far and away the least coverage of, you know, war. (They did, however, lead all news stations in coverage of some 18 year-old blonde girl who went missing in Aruba, and Anna Nicole Smith reports.) (No, I am not kidding.)

It frustrates me to no end to listen to this claptrap, because the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. Most journalists, and most journalism outlets, actually go pretty far out of their way to make sure that they do not endanger troops, nor spill any beans which might impede upcoming operations.

But now I do have an example of a "journalist" blowing a secret and endangering lives. This gadfly has global reach and an instant audience in the millions, and his move makes that yahoo Geraldo Rivera (who once sketched a map of US troop dispositions and planned operations in the dirt, live on Fox News channel) look like a discrete professional. The culprit: Matt Drudge.

No, it wasn't American soldiers he put in danger. Those put at risk by Drudge's stupidity and inability to balance newsworthiness with security were British soldiers, particularly those around Prince Harry, who Drudge revealed was in combat in Afghanistan.

You know that your name is mud when you cannot keep a secret that even the notorious blabbermouths of Fleet Street managed to silence among themselves. Yes, there were two teeny-tiny reports earlier. Both occurred in women's fashion/gossip magazines: one in Australia months ago, and one in Germany which speculated that he might be in Iraq. Neither was authoritative. Neither was taken seriously. Both were actually quite vague. Then Matt "I can't keep my big mouth shut" Drudge stepped up to the plate with an "Exclusive," revealing at the top of his lungs that Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, was doing his duty and fighting in Afghanistan. And apparently, he doesn't care that he blew it for one of our best and oldest allies.

For crying out loud, even the notorious tabloids of Britain managed to keep their mouths shut, though they knew about it the whole danged time. But blabbermouth Drudge has no qualms when he thinks he's got an exclusive, it's all about the hitcount (21st century version of ratings). Nice job Drudge. Way to go. Damage our alliance. Give the US another black-eye over in the UK. Put one of our ally's most valued soldiers (and those around him) in danger, and call it a day, eh?

With "Support the Troops" idiots like this around, who needs enemies?

Comments

Tincan sailor (not verified)

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 4:44pm

SWJED I fully understand your feelings,the
dog has been beat to death,at the same time
I fully understand Matts point on this and
he is one who I fully respect and trust.I
locked horns AHSP back when he was AKA Carl
Prine and I said I thought Michael Yon was
a very good reporter,you'd thought I had walked
into Prines house with Poo on my shoes,he called Yon your basic hack.I respect his
service time,no question but he is still a
big Jerk and from my point of view a prince
of hacks Tincan
USS Frank Knox DDR 742 58-62

DDilegge

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 2:26pm

We rarely close comments - but this looks like an earlier difference of opinion from other parts of the blogosphere smacking down on our front porch. Appreciate if we move on - thanks.

soldiernolonge…

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 1:40pm

And although I didn't want to bring it up, Matt, this is what a certain blogger (hmmmm, I wonder who he is), wrote about two years ago:

" have known of bloggers (one is an author in "The Blog of War") who had their Division Commander approve of what they were doing...only to discover that the Army (DoA) had them listed on a Power Point Presentation about OPSEC violators. Yours truly and "the Donovan" were also listed. This "recognition" effectively killed their blogs which were popular first hand sources of the war experience."

http://www.blackfive.net/main/2006/10/us_army_spying_.html

Since I was never the OPSEC officer nor ever accused by any commander of violating OPSEC through my work either as a reporter or in uniform, I might leave it to your imagination what your own statements on the issue might mean.

soldiernolonge…

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 1:33pm

I think you're confusing stories, Matt. Or I am.

Are you talking about the IED/BDA story you illustrated above? Or a separate story about the 2003 RPG hit on 70th Armor that isn't really the same thing?

I was thinking about the BDA photos you provided involving a tank, but it could've been a RPG or IED.

The one I seem to recall -- and the explanation that followed -- went along the lines of:

"I was given the pictures, which were not classified (I asked about classification and OPSEC), by a commander in Iraq. Early on, the Army wasn't sure how an M1A2 could be dismantled in such a way by an IED.

Blogs posted it. In fact, the title of the post at Blackfive was "What kind of IED can take out an Abrams?"

Fond of it or not, after the discussion happened (engineers, tankers, etc), the commander asked me to take the photos down. The photos were then classified."

At this point, I'm not sure you understand even what OPSEC is. It would be difficult to imagine that NBC/Kevin Sites or Time Magazine ever compromised OPSEC through the reporting of those journalists.

You might not like the stories, but they weren't putting photos on milblogs of tanks destroyed by IEDs.

What you seem to have forgotten, lo these many years, is that you and I corresponded after the Sites' report on the mosque shooting. I wrote a story you admired and which you thought put into context the decision-making by the squad in Fallujah that was missing in the pool footage:

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_277373.html

Forgive me, Carl, I didn't go to law school and learn to craft "the circular argument":

My point, which seems to be lost on you, was that milblogs had the report and photos from the Army. And, as a matter of fact, the report and photos were published by the Times first.

That doesn't change where I got them or what I did with them. The fact that the media published them first doesn't make it okay for us to do the same. I checked first and we kept that discussion moving. But we weren't the ones who published them. Unless you believe that the enemy doesn't check the Army Times.

And as for putting soldiers in danger, I think your point about putting you in harms way more than the media is ridiculous. While I agree that there are tons of professional journalists out there, with regards to making our soldiers targets, I think you should talk to Kevin Sites or Tim McGurk (and a lot of others) about that.

soldiernolonge…

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 12:32pm

Really, Matt? Your photo that showed BDA came from Military Times?

I seem to recall that someone explained the origin of the blog posting as this:

"I was given the pictures, which were not classified (I asked about classification and OPSEC), by a commander in Iraq. Early on, the Army wasn't sure how an M1A2 could be dismantled in such a way by an IED.

Blogs posted it. In fact, the title of the post at Blackfive was "What kind of IED can take out an Abrams?"

Fond of it or not, after the discussion happened (engineers, tankers, etc), the commander asked me to take the photos down. The photos were then classified."

I wonder where I saw that...

Tincan sailor (not verified)

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 12:03pm

Action Hero Sock Puppet,still around???Just
like a bad penny you never go away and thats
a shame!!I've been around from the start of
B-5 and the last thing Matt would do is to hang our troops out to dry.I can remember you
back in the Carl Prine days and when you got
trashed as AHSP...I hear Geraldo Rivera is
looking for a gopher,you might give it a shot!!!

Blackfive (not verified)

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 12:02pm

Carl - You are becoming farcical and apocryphal.

The story on Blackfive that you are talking about was first published at the Army Times. Um, last I checked, the Army Times (Military Times) was not a military blog and was a media source.

Back in early November of 2003, I just published a link to that story. Google it. But if you can't, here's the link: http://www.blackfive.net/main/2003/11/what_took_out_a.html

And I removed it when the Army changed it's story and requested it. They. Requested. It. Pure or not, I complied with their request.

It's interesting that you recall it not-so-fondly, yet you did nothing about it. Most likely, you were thinking of going Guard to go downrange at the time and yet you did nothing.

Either you are reacting to something that you didn't see until the report was published, or you, in your own estimation of your own profession, are incompetent.

BTW, that other RPG story came as an example of what not to publish was from a memo from the Vice Chief of the Army in early 2005.

Oh. I see. That's how it works, huh? So this set of pictures:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8797271/

And a thousand like them every day published by the MSM is okay, but my friend Matt is somehow guilty of helping the enemy?

Like I said. The judge retired to his chambers to smoke a Macanudo. Puff, puff, mmmm ... good. I think I will too.

soldiernolonge…

Fri, 03/07/2008 - 10:58am

I don't recall that I ever mentioned that the photographs were classified. Had they been part of a formal, internal Army study about the BDA, they most certainly would have been, and they later were classified as such to prevent the enemy from gaining BDA.

The difference was one of competence. An experienced war correspondent would either have realized that unpublished photos like that were potentially helpful to the enemy, or that they needed to be vetted with a military commander to make sure that their widespread publication wouldn't compromise troops in the field.

My larger point, oddly, is made clearer by Matt's explanation: The OPSEC violation (and it certainly transpired) began with a uniformed commander and was spread to a far wider audience by a milblogger.

In a year's study, there were 30 variations of this on 549 sites scrutinized by the Army. This is the dynamic the military is worried about, not the mainstream press and its military reporters, most of whom have more than a decade dealing with these very issues.

Captain's Journal, a blog also in the debate over how much opsec was revealed in a series of postings about ROE/EOF, declares Blackfive absolved.

This is incomprehensible to me. If it was so pure, the pictures providing BDA damage to the enemy wouldn't have been taken down.

Had Captain's Journal really had such a warm and fuzzy about potential opsec violations, the author of that blog wouldn't have gone to such lengths to raise the issue in his own jottings and leave it hanging.

I can assure you that in newsrooms a great deal more deliberation goes into these issues than what has been explained here, which probably is why the military doesn't have Virginia ArNG troops scanning our front pages, but routinely looks at milbloggers (and DoD's own sites) to see what utility has been provided to the enemy today.

If I'm the enemy, I couldn't think of a better title to google than the one Blackfive provided for his readers.

AHSP,

You wrote "I recall, not very fondly, the time Blackfive (one of the more well known milblogs) showcased a photo of a M1A1 damaged by a particular (suspected) RPG.

The photo basically would have helped the enemy learn BDA. When the Pentagon asked the milblog to take it down, Blackfive complied. But by then (and thanks to internet archiving) the information already was revealed."

-- Yeah? Cool. I recall, not very fondly, the time AHSP (a semi-pro journalist who sometimes writes as "Carl Prine") wrote a comment on a blog that made my friend, Blackfive, look like an careless fool.

The comment basically was intended to make Carl look like a paragon of military virtue cross-bred with journalistic ethos by attacking his betters without knowing all the facts, when they could have easily been verified with a simple email. When Blackfive called him on his douchebaggery, Carl didn't issue an apology (and thanks to internet archiving) the comment stands for others to see.

Perhaps you should apologize.

-- Uber Pig.

Thanks to our friend Matt and lord of Milbloggers. Now it all makes sense (AHSP). My best to you. Gavel crashes down (crash!*#), case closed. Judge leave courtroom and retires to his chambers to smoke a cigar ...

Actually, AHSP only gets it partially right.

I was given the pictures, which were not classified (I asked about classification and OPSEC), by a commander in Iraq. Early on, the Army wasn't sure how an M1A2 could be dismantled in such a way by an IED.

Blogs posted it. In fact, the title of the post at Blackfive was "What kind of IED can take out an Abrams?"

Fond of it or not, after the discussion happened (engineers, tankers, etc), the commander asked me to take the photos down. The photos were then classified.

Mike Yon did a similar service by posting pictures of weapons that were causing issues in Iraq. He also had permission.

I respect a lot of reporters. Some, I do not. I do write more about the ones who dine with the Taliban or Jack Murtha than the ones who dine with our troops.

There are some great reporters out there. CNN has them. NYTimes has them. Fox has them. Christian Science Monitor has them.

AHSP? Not so much.

The problem here is that AHSP is the defender of the faith and has an issue with me personally. Google Blackfive and AHSP and you can witness some interesting behavior.

The difference between Blackfive and the media is that my tenets are published and demonstrated repeatedly (support the troops).

The media?

Not exactly.

<i>"Against ALL enemies foreign AND domestic"</i>

A defense mechanism against the rage and hopelessness of impotence against domestic enemies is to construct a world view in which domestic enemies are a figment of Brit Hume's imagination.

Who one recognizes as enemies depends much on who one considers friends.

"Enemy" in reference to the American Main Stream Media is doctrinally incorrect, LT, because the use of force in breaking them of bad habits is not authorized. It is doctrinally incorrect to refer to them as "adversaries" because the use of force against them may not even be envisaged. The only <s>politically</s> doctrinally correct terms left are "neutrals" or "supporters."

Any skepticism expressed about the "neutrality" of the MSM is evidence of oldthink.

Can we purge oldthinkers? Yes We Can!

This link is moderately helpful.

http://www.eff.org/issues/foia/070216EGS

Biggest threat is battle damage assessment. Seems like the worst violations have been pictures of battle damage posted to a few blogs, not many, along with what seems to be a BIG violator, Military.com discussion forums.

Exactly how pictures of battle damage posted to a blog (which I am not defending) is any different than the picture of the AAV in 2005 near Haditha where an IED killed fourteen Recon Marines (photo published all over the MSM) is not clear (this is rhetorical - it isn't different).

For what it's worth.

soldiernolonge…

Tue, 03/04/2008 - 6:48pm

The RAND monograph to which I previously linked details OSD (at least up to SecDef Rumsfeld) perspectives on the likelihood of OPSEC violations by professional reporters. It's a valuable read, one that allows OSD to speak for themselves.

As for "sky is falling" and Milblogs, obviously the falling timbers are coming (mostly) from DoD websites. The AWRAC audit found potentially thousands of violations of OPSEC by sites maintained by uniformed and civilian members of DoD, and 30 milbloggers who potentially gave information to the enemy out of 500 or so.

It's difficult to develop a ratio for this because we don't know how many separate weblinks were maintained by DoD (I'm imagining many tens of thousands) in 2006.

I guess we can say that about 5 percent of 594 milbloggers in that year were lunkheads, based on the published numbers.

If five percent of the various media outlets had provided valuable data to the enemy, DoD likely would be doing more than tsk-tsking over Geraldo in 2003 drawing sand hyrogliphics.

It should be noted that in the case LTC Bateman is discussing, OPSEC of a sort was violated by a conservative blogger, Drudge, who one assumes understood the danger of revealing the Prince's identity and whereabouts, and did so anyway.

I would challenge anyone to find a professional reporter for an American news outlet who has done as much.

You seem to believe that the NYT's decision to sit on a story for a year and consult before publication with NSA and White House officials (including, apparently, CINC) is some violation of "opsec."

It's a balancing act, obviously, because one must weigh the reality of what is potentially a largescale, ILLEGAL wiretapping program with the administration's claims that outing this ILLEGAL program harms national security.

That's not the same thing, perhaps, as telegraphing to the various insurgencies in OIF the ROE/EOF decisions made by tail-end charlie on vehicle patrols (hey, that's me!) or what Drudge did because those disclosures get guys like me killed.

More nebulous the potentially ILLEGAL wiretapping program, certainly, and hardly the same thing.

Usually there is a classified and an unclassified version of reports such as the one to which you refer. Besides, what was OPSEC two or three years ago (e.g., troop movements) is not likely to be now.

I am not sure that 'Duh means. I have heard the teenage girls say it before.

We should probably let the OSD speak for themselves concerning their perspective on OPSEC and MSM. I doubt that they are the angels you make them out to be.

Your "sky is falling" mentality to Milblogs and your thoughtless defense of the MSM impresses me as a thought game rather than a sincere concern. So, over and out.

soldiernolonge…

Tue, 03/04/2008 - 5:27pm

The AWRAC review is, obviously, classified. If it publicly itemized violations of opsec committed by DoD websites and milbloggers, the audit (obviously) would help potential enemies target information.

Duh.

Who knows? Maybe "Captain's Journal" was one of the violators.

The conundrum might be encapsulated in your own report:

http://www.captainsjournal.com/2006/10/15/department-of-defense-sir-we-…

Having been a .50 cal gunner in OIF, I might suggest that parts of what was disclosed on a goofy discussion about ROE/EOF came pretty close to helping the enemy target convoys, but much they already knew anyway.

OSD routinely scrutinizes press coverage of military matters. The perspective of OSD is the same as the RAND monograph historically details: Professional reporters tend to be very good at OPSEC (unlike, it should be noted, at least 30 milbloggers and a couple of thousand DoD links in 2006).

The NYT report on the potentially illegal activities of the NSA famously waited nearly a year before publishing, stalling until after the 2004 elections. As intelligence agencies would be the first to note, al Qaeda operatives either in the US or overseas naturally assume they likely are subject to eavesdropping by electronic and other forms of surveillance, and work diligently as professional terrorists to mitigate to evade it.

What one might suggest is that NSA was banking on greater consolidation of international telecommunications through nodes within (or accessed by) the US. James Risen's book on the subject goes to some lengths to explain why this is so.

It would be nice if you would give the link for AWRAC.

But see, you've given me (us?) absolutely no reason whatsoever to conclude that OPSEC violations are widespread in the blogging community. You've also given no reason to conclude that a review of MSM reports - leaving aside what they CLAIM they do or are SUPPOSED to do - wouldn't yield the same concerns. I'm under the impression that the enemy studiously keeps up with MSM reports.

Also, I am not under the impression that the NYT scoop of the NSA eavesdropping damaging the program is a "fantasy." You can't simply define it to be that way and then rely on your choice of definitions for comfort. That is assuming the consequent.

soldiernolonge…

Tue, 03/04/2008 - 3:50pm

I recall, not very fondly, the time Blackfive (one of the more well known milblogs) showcased a photo of a M1A1 damaged by a particular (suspected) RPG.

The photo basically would have helped the enemy learn BDA. When the Pentagon asked the milblog to take it down, Blackfive complied. But by then (and thanks to internet archiving) the information already was revealed.

This is a tangible example -- one of many -- that we take with us when we mull over what operations security really is, and not the fantasy of the NYT's NSA scoop and its "damage" to what might have been illegal intelligence gathering.

A RAND review of how professional reporters handle OPSEC can be found here:

http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG200/index.html

Nutgraf, as they say:

"When treated as professionals and offered military confidences, reporters have historically proven worthy of that confidence."

According to a 2006 audit of 594 milblogs by the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC), milbloggers committed 30 serious opsec violations.

If you think that's bad, remember that the same audit found DoD's own websites revealed 50 times that many disclosures.

Doh.

To the last comment, your implication that Milblogs publish OPSEC and MSM doesn't is not only silly but directly contrary to the facts. Consider one of the worst examples in history, that of the NYT publishing the story about NSA eavesdropping which by all accounts did irreparable harm to the program. The NYT compromised national security by choice. Also consider the fact that a recent study found that more OPSEC is available over *.mil domains that could ever be found over Milblogs (I cannot locate the link now, but Wired [Danger Room] has it somewhere in their archives).

As for the Prince, I mean no offense to young Harry, but he is to me just another soldier. There are thousands of them out there, and their lives are all worth the same, no matter what the pedigree or rank. The family who lives in a small house somewhere in London that deploys a private to the campaign in Afghanistan will suffer the same heartbreak at loss of their son as the Royal family will. The fact that Harry was brought home won't have a material effect on the outcome of the campaign. I'm sorry for the British sensibilities, but I suppose royalty takes on an importance that an American like me cannot comprehend.

Now. Back to the wars.

soldiernolonge…

Tue, 03/04/2008 - 1:04pm

Bob,

I find it odd that you believe two serious -- albeit niche -- publications in Australia and Germany aren't "authoritative," but an internet blogger is?

The reality is that we've been trying to warn the US military for years that trends sculpting the 21st Century's electronic battlescape are not on their side.

There are too many international freelancers, too many high-tech tools that allow instantaneous feeds from a war zone, too many ways for leaks to gush out for lumbering militaries to police.

Sounds a lot like 4GW, too, doesn't it?

While one might admire the remarkable self-restraint of Fleet Street for 10 weeks, this story was always one disgruntled cornet with an email account away from blowing up.

In the new era of media, there always will be Drudges. They've become some of the stitching in the media tapestry, and no one can change that.

Mainstream reporters would never violate opsec by choice. Sometimes they err, but the more experienced the correspondent the least likely he or she is to produce news that might harm US or allied combatants.

Ask yourself this: Is more actionable intelligence available to the enemy on milblogs and especially American combatants' sites? Or in the NYT or WAPO?

The questions answer themselves.

Matt Drudge has pretty much slapped our British allies in the face with his "scoop". It's very inexcusable. I would agree with some right-leaning bloggers that the traditional media (NY Times, LA Times, CNN) is on the left-side of the house, but calling them the "enemy" is a bit far fetched. In today's age of easy access to a variety of international news sources and commentary, it's pretty easy to get the perspective from the full political spectrum.